Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
July 2013

Despicable Me 2

Thanks, but no thanks

Gru just isn't as much fun when he's no longer a villain

Despicable Me 2
Universal Pictures
Director: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud
Screenplay: Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul
Starring: The voices of Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Elsie Fisher, Miranda Cosgrove, Steve Coogan and Ken Jeong
Rated PG / 1 hour, 38 minutes
July 3, 2013
(out of four)

That Despicable Me 2 is entirely unnecessary is, I suppose, beside the point. For a smash hit made for family audiences, sequels are virtually assured, even if the original movie had an entirely completed arc and a central idea (and character) that cannot be brought back in the same way.

On one hand, I could look at this as an opportunity for reinvention (one of my favorite things); on the other, I see a fundamentally standalone film being pillaged in the name of needless franchising (one of my least favorite things). The 2010 film - a refreshingly unique (if a bit undercooked) creation from then-fledgling Illumination Entertainment - was set in the world of supervillains and centered around one villain in particular, Gru (Steve Carell), whose passion for elaborate schemes and weapons is overshadowed only by his crippling loneliness.

There was a grand sense of absurdity about the character; unnecessarily extravagant and enthusiastically mean-spirited, Gru embodied the aura of an over-the-top Bond villain, living out a life of evildoing in the comfort of his excessively booby-trapped fortress in the middle of suburbia. Until, that is, the three orphaned girls he originally adopted solely for professional purposes warm his sinister heart with their innocence and charm, and he turns his back on evil forever. An open-and-shut character arc. No need to delve any further.

There's a reason we as a society have made a collective agreement not to remember or acknowledge the two follow-ups (one prequel, one sequel) to the classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Simply because they weren't necessary. The story was complete. Same goes for Despicable Me, and formerly despicable Gru.

The excuse they've come up with for the continuation of the story is that Gru needs a lady. He's already got the kids, he's already learned how to be a good father; now all he's gotta do is get himself a date. Enter Lucy (Kristen Wiig), who serves the dual role of romantic interest and partner in crimefighting. A hyperactive and overzealous new agent for the Anti-Villain League, Lucy kidnaps Gru (and a couple of Minions) and takes him to the AVL's headquarters (underwater, of course) to recruit him for a mission to capture an incognito supervillain who has possession of . . . well, something or other. Doesn't matter.

Unsatisfied with trying to get his doomed-to-fail jams-and-jellies business off the ground, Gru agrees to join forces with Lucy, and the two stake out a local shopping mall, where the anonymous baddie is said to be lying in wait. While the AVL seems to be most suspicious of Floyd Eagle-san (Ken Jeong), the proprietor of a local wig shop, Gru has his sights set on the friendly, portly neighborhood restauranteur, Eduardo Perez (Benjamin Bratt). Gru believes Eduardo is none other than the legendary "El Macho," an exorbitantly masculine international criminal believed to have died years earlier while riding a dynamite-laced shark into the mouth of an active volcano. (Just think of El Macho as The Most Interesting Man in the World, supervillain-style.)

But Gru's judgment is clouded by the fact that Eduardo's smooth-talking son, Antonio (Moisés Arias), is putting the moves on Gru's eldest daughter, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), in turn putting his overprotective father senses on high alert.

But all of this - the stakeout, the love interest, the secret villain - is little more than an excuse to get us hanging out with Gru and his Minions again. And while Gru has become substantially less funny since turning in his bad-guy credentials, his Minions are still a delight, and they're responsible for most of the comedy in this sequel. (That said, the idea of having an entire spinoff movie based around them - coming next winter - seems like a disaster waiting to happen.)

Once the villain's identity is finally revealed (I won't say who!), the film springs to life in fits and starts, simply because the diabolical scheme he has in mind is so absurd. It's the only thing that reaches the same comic heights as the first movie. Otherwise, Despicable Me 2 plays like a glorified retread trying to come up with excuse after excuse to justify itself. Its repeated attempts to develop narrative reasons to keep Gru's story going sufficiently kill the time, but don't accomplish much else.


Read more by Chris Bellamy


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